HBO’s ‘Our Flag Means Death’ Is A Triumph Of Slash Fiction


HBO’s tender and irreverent pirate romcom, Our Flag Means Death, just concluded its second season. Set during the Golden Age of Piracy, the series orbits around the starcrossed romance between dandy pirate Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and the infamous Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), supported by a motley crew of pirates. The script, penned mostly by show creator David Jenkins, is the stuff of fanfiction gold. It blends real pirate history with “slash fiction” tropes that have powered fandoms for generations, breathing new life into a genre that would have happily seen Jack Sparrow and Will Turner tie the knot in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Slash Fiction should not be confused with ‘slasher’ stories, which The Take has gleefully covered during Halloween month. The ‘slash’ in slash fiction refers to fan fiction that focuses on same-sex relationships, particularly between male characters, such as Kirk/Spock (#SpaceHusbands) in the Star Trek fandom as early as the 1970s. Back then, fandom content—particularly the homoerotic kind—was distributed via underground zines, comprised of slash writings and artwork. This eventually grew into an international phenomenon with fan-fiction websites and social media platforms like Tumblr and X (fka Twitter), which allow fans to share their writing and artwork in a free, communal cyberspace.

Not every slash couple, such as Kirk/Spock, is canon in the actual franchise, but the plethora of fan-fiction and trending hashtags they inspire is undeniable. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular slash couples in modern TV history, starting with Stede and Blackbeard, which the OFMD fandom lovingly calls #BlackBonnet.

Our Flag Means Death: Stede and Blackbeard

When David Jenkins started doing research for the show, he discovered that real pirates Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard were friends, which prompted the idea they could have been lovers. In OFMD, former dandy Stede yearns to be a sword-savvy pirate while the fearsome Blackbeard desires a life of comfort. As they help each other forge a new identity on the open seas, they fall madly in love, fighting tooth and nail to be together despite the nefarious forces that aim to drive them apart. After years of queerbaiting in the media, which is when creatives hint at queer romances without ever letting them come to fruition, OFMD revels in its unabashed queerness.

In our current politically divisive climate with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and hate crimes on the rise, we need television shows like Our Flag Means Death that say loud and clear: we are queer, and we’ve always been here. Get used to it.

Fun fact: Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi, who play Stede and Blackbeard, are lifelong friends who starred in another Waititi production together that would sweep fandom culture by storm, What We Do In The Shadows (2014).

Supernatural: Dean and Castiel

Arguably the greatest and most popular slash couple in the 21st century, Dean and Castiel (#Destiel) are the stuff of fandom legend. The CW’s Supernatural ran for fifteen seasons and followed two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, as they traveled across America slaying monsters from the present and their past. It’s no surprise the show veered into biblical territory for plot material. In the episode “Lazarus Rising” (4x1), Dean is confronted by the angel Castiel (Misha Collins), who utters the iconic line: “I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition.”

Collins was originally cast as a guest star, but was later promoted to series regular when the showrunners witnessed the craze Dean and Castiel’s “bromance” was stirring in the press. As of today, there are over 300,000 #Destiel works on the popular fanfiction site, Archive of Our Own (aka A03). However, considering A03 was launched years after #Destiel formed, that number is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Although Dean and Castiel never became an official item, Collins was a huge #Destiel advocate throughout the show’s run and influenced the creative team to write Castiel’s love confession just moments before his character gets killed off in the final season (#KillYourGays trope, much?) Nonetheless, we stan a slash fiction king!

Sherlock Holmes: Watson and Sherlock

Next to Kirk/Spock, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick, John Watson, are one of the most iconic slash couples in literature and TV/Film history. Since the characters first appeared in the late 19th century, the partnership between Sherlock and John (#JohnLock) has tickled readers and viewers’ imaginations for generations. This is largely due to the fact that both men have a deep and intimate friendship and often bicker like an old married couple, spending more time with each other than they do with their actual spouses or love interests.

Many would argue that Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s chemistry as Holmes and Watson in the BBC series Sherlock (2010-2017) caused a resurgence in #JohnLock hysteria in the 21st century. While the show kept Sherlock and John’s relationship in a platonic context, there are numerous playful nods to the idea of a romance, which other characters remark on, and in one scene, Watson asks Sherlock point-blank:

John: You don’t have a girlfriend, then?

Sherlock: Girlfriend? No, not really my area.

John: Oh right then. Do you have a boyfriend? Which is fine, by the way-

Sherlock: I know it’s fine.

John: So you’ve got a boyfriend?

Sherlock: No.

John: Right, okay. You’re unattached, just like me. Fine. Good.

Hannibal: Will and Hannibal

Remember how we differentiated slash fiction from ‘slasher’ fiction? Well, Bryan Fuller’s television series Hannibal (yes, about that Hannibal) sort of marries the two. The romance between FBI agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) over the course of three seasons is a twisted, psychological dance of longing and manipulation. Both men are brought together when Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) asks Hannibal to evaluate Will’s mental state. Hannibal, who is still hiding in plain sight, is immediately intrigued by Will’s unique empathetic abilities, seeing a potential in him for darkness that mirrors his own.

As the series progresses, the two engage in a cat-and-mouse game where Hannibal often remains a step ahead. Despite Hannibal’s manipulations, he becomes deeply infatuated with Will. At one point, Hannibal’s therapist Bedelia (Gillian Anderson) likens his obsession to “love.” The series creator, Bryan Fuller, has spoken openly about the sexual tension that brews between Will and Hannibal over the seasons and describes their relationship as a unique bond that defies conventional labels.

The #Hannigram fandom rivals some of the previous ships mentioned, but what’s even more incredible is the fact that a piece of Hannibal fan art is now hanging in the U.S. Capitol. In 2021, 17-year-old Kathleen Palmer won the Congressional Art Competition for a Cubist painting that depicts Will and Hannibal from the TV show.

That’s right—a painting of a slash fiction couple has made a mark in our nation’s history.

Sources Cited

Henderson, Taylor. “Misha Collins Confirms Castiel’s Homosexual Declaration of Love.” PRIDE, 10, Nov 2020.

Morales, Christina and Victor, Daniel. “A Teenager’s Hannibal Fan Art Will Hang in the U.S. Capitol.” The New York Times, 23, May 2021.

Watson, Zebbie. “Exploring The First Frontier Of Slash Fiction.” Inverse, 27, May 2016.